Fort Worth Star-Telegram: March 27th, 2002

Owners restore buildings on historic Arlington property

By JOHN AUSTIN jaustin@star-telegram.com

ARLINGTON — Since about 1914, the old house on the hill just south of West Division Street has overlooked the flood plain between Village and Rush creeks in this corner of far west Arlington.

Now the owner of the historic home, built by Col. Paul Waples, is set to reinject life into it. Scott Howell bought the property and 40 surrounding acres of woods and water from Waples’ descendants in 2002. He has restored a barn and cottage as a special-events venue and opened for business.

“We really want it to be for high-end functions,” Howell said. “It’s tailor-made for weddings, corporate parties.”

There’s no telling what Waples, a turn-of-the-century magnate who made his fortune with the Waples-Platter wholesale grocery company, spent on the original 622-acre estate. Howell’s restoration tab is already between $500,000 and $600,000 for the barn and cottage, and he has yet to tackle the main house.

But one event planner thinks the investment on the project, which will be billed as Howell’s Farm at Waples-Platter, could pay off.

Chuck Barry, executive producer of Big Dog Productions in Arlington, said that although event planners like to schedule venues close to their main meeting sites, they also like to get participants off-site occasionally, within about a 20-minute drive.

Venues with local color — Billy Bob’s Texas, for instance — are good.

“That’s a neat property,” said Barry, who grew up in Arlington and knows the Waples place.

On a recent tour of the cottage, Howell picked up a stray cup left from a soiree. The cottage, like the 12-stall barn, is made of sandstone and dates to the 1930s.

Howell, a South Carolina native and Republican political consultant who worked under Lee Atwater and Karl Rove, knew what he wanted in the property. His affinity for historic houses was honed by living in Charleston, which boasts a wealth of antebellum properties.

“It was important to me that everything look the same,” he said.

“Even though I was updating, I wanted it to be related to the period.”

For example, he had to figure out how to make the new oak floorboards match the well-worn originals.

His contractor’s solution? “We beat it with chains.”

Howell added a wide plantation porch on three sides of the cottage, a standing-seam metal roof, air conditioning and updated kitchen and bathroom facilities.

Howell, his wife, Julie, and their children, ages 9 and 12, don’t live there, but he clearly feels at home on the porch.

“It just takes you back 100 years,” he said, adding that he’s seen fireflies, hawks and a peacock in the woods. “It’s like a time warp.”

He also added another Southern touch: a long “joggling board” set between two uprights with rockers on the bottom, allowing visitors to gently bounce as they sit.

“Of course, you can’t have a plantation porch without a joggling board,” Howell said. “I don’t think there’s another joggling board in Texas.”

The barn is the most recent project to be completed, with brick pavers on the floor, an oak staircase to the second floor and three chandeliers.

Arlington landscape architect Cliff Mycoskie, of Mycoskie, McInnis and Associates, handled the plantings, walkways and the Little League baseball field next to the cottage.

Howell has done his share of updating, but other features of the property are purely historical.

For instance, Waples, who helped bankroll the Star-Telegram, died at the foot of the hill when the Interurban train, which ran between Fort Worth and Dallas, hit his car in 1916. The concrete steps for what was reputed to be Waples’ private stop for the Interurban are still in place.

That legacy has a downside. The entry to the property from West Division crosses railroad tracks that are still in use, and “that train has to blow its horn” every time it crosses the entry, Mycoskie said. “The neighbors hate it.”

The plan is to ultimately close that entry — no more train noise — and create a new one on the property’s east side.

But that’s a bit down the road, just like Howell’s schedule for restoring the main house. He figures he might start that in three years or so.

“This thing will be beyond special,” Mycoskie said, although he laughed at the prospect of what fixing up the big house will cost.

“He wants to do everything right. I’m sure it’ll be a money pit.”

But that doesn’t faze Howell, who said the big house will be “almost like a museum.”

And that’s a far cry from what some figured Howell would do when he first acquired the property.

“People said, ‘You gonna bulldoze the big house?'” he said, his South Carolina accent coming on strong. “I said, ‘Hell no!'”